Still Protesting, a Pastor’s Perspective
Let’s be honest: the evangelical and Protestant church has seen better days. We have our own scandals. In a fast-paced world, our faults are replicated through our communities at a much quicker rate than in previous generations. We may not have a pope but we certainly have a celebrity culture of mega-pastors which people rally around in an “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos” sort of way. Evangelical and Protestant theology is long passed its highwater mark of intellectual depth, Biblical analysis, and careful articulation. Now, you can be “evangelical” and think that God does not know the future, Jesus is not equal in power and glory with the Father, or that justification by faith is not forensic but transformative. We have seen better days. In some ways, we need to rediscover the need for a little “protest”.
As a pastor, it is important to discern the things that matter and have eternal weight and emphasize those. We must challenge the church and ask the continual question, “What are the marks of a true church?” and “is my church holding to those marks?” There is an old saying the applies here: “choose your battles.” Sometimes in “protesting” we want to fight every fight, we want to draw every line in the sand. Yet like a general in the field, we need to realize there are certain points in the battle that demand more attention and certain hills upon which we must die.
First, one such hill to die on is the authority of the Word of God. The Bible is the Word of God. God used means and people in times and places but God is the ultimate author. It is authoritative because God spoke it. The Bible then is infallible and inerrant. What that means is simple; the Bible does not lie because God cannot lie.
Equally important to the authority of the Word of God is the canonicity of the Word of God. Does the Bible have authority because the church says so or do the books of the Bible have an inherent authority which the church recognizes? If you receive two love letters claiming to be from your wife, but they have different handwriting, style, and completely contradictory accounts of how you met and were married, they both cannot be true. Yet, because you know your wife and the details of your life with her, you will be able to spot the error. You will be able to declare “yes, this is the letter from my wife, the other is not.” But your proclamation did not originate the letter. No, you simply recognized what was already inherent in it from the moment it was written.
Second, we need to recover the importance of justification by faith alone. Like many things, this doctrine has seen better days in the evangelical Protestant church. But we need to make sure that it is not one that is lost. Of course, because we live in a day when “doctrine is boring” but “experiencing Jesus” is what matters, we often find an uphill battle. There is much we could say about this but let me make one observation: it is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that allows us to assure and comfort the sinner that they are truly saved. So much as a person has confessed genuine faith with Christ, we can assure them they have peace with God. As pastors we don’t absolve anyone, only God forgive sins—but broken people long to be comforted by the balm of the grace of God that is a salve upon our soul. At the end of the day, Rome cannot offer this assurance. They can offer sacraments, ongoing infusions of grace, and a whole intricate system of priesthood, saints, and mediation but they can never assure the sinner a place in heaven upon death because that would require the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
What can we do about these things? If you’re not a pastor, what you do to keep “protesting”? First, let me encourage you to encourage your pastor to continue to make the main thing the main thing. We live in such a distracted age and pastors are often bombarded with messages of “just try this” or “this program guaranteed to work”—it’s almost like the sales pitches of late night infomercials. Many pastors long for the faithful parishioner who “gets it,” who encourages the church to focus on the main things and shun the fads and popularity contests. If you are not a pastor you might be surprised at how many people in the church treat the pastor like they can do his job better than him. Be encourager, rally around a man of God committed to the things of God.
Second, come to church hungry and attentive to the Word of God. Understand the power in the Word of God and the power in faithful preaching. To this end, dedicate yourself to the ministry of prayer for the effectiveness of the Word. Many in the church would rather switch to a new appeal program or method then bend down and engage in the hard but necessary labor of prayer.
Third, choose your battles very carefully. Do not be picky on things that do not matter. Who cares what color the carpet is? For too long, the church has zeroed in on perfecting these side elements that have no eternal value while we have fled from the central battles of what it means to be Protestant. It’s time to reengage and stand for what truly matters.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.